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Faces of Britain

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In 2005 the Wellcome Trust established a £2.3 million project (roughly 4.5 million USD) at the University Oxford to examine the genetic makeup of the United Kingdom.The project would be led by the renowned geneticist and Oxford Professor Sir Walter Bodmer, joined by Oxford Professor Peter Donnelly (a population genetics and statistics expert) and the Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow Professor Lon Cardon.

The goal of the project is to establish a knowledge base for analyzing genes that are linked to disease.To do this, the researchers hoped to gather DNA from 3000 to 3500 volunteers throughout the UK who live in the same area as their parents and grandparents.Each volunteer’s DNA will be tested for 2000 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms).The data will be combined with each volunteer’s medical history in the attempt to find a link between genetic make-up and the inheritability or susceptibility of a number of diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.The data will also be used to isolate DNA sequences that characterize the founders of each region of the UK, be they Viking, Saxon, or Celt.

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African American Lives 2

Yesterday the producers of last year’s popular PBS series “African American Lives” and “Oprah’s Roots” announced that they are seeking applications from people who are interested in participating in “African American Lives 2.”The producers plan to air the program in February 2008, and it will once again be hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr.One lucky participant will have their genealogy mapped through a combination of traditional genealogical research and DNA analysis.You can read the full press release here.

Note that applications must be submitted by submitted by 6:00 PM on Friday, May 4, so if you believe that you have “discernible (or at least anecdotal) African ancestry”, as the FAQ section states, you should apply immediately.This type of dedicated research is undoubtedly worth thousands of dollars and could be an amazing opportunity.

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Genetic Genealogy Reporting by Non-Scientists – Be Cautious!

The Guardian, a newspaper based in England, recently published an article about genetic genealogy entitled “The appliance of science.“It’s an interesting article that looks at the pros and cons of genetic testing for genealogical purposes.

The journalist quotes Chris Pomery, author of the up-coming book “Family History in the Genes: Trace Your DNA and Grow Your Family Tree.”

“In specific cases, genetics is a very useful tool, but it is not a panacea,” he says. “We’re not even close to the situation where, if you’re starting to research your family history, you should begin with a DNA test. At £100 or so a throw it’s a lot of money, and you can progress your research a long way first for free.”

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Genetic Genealogy Advice for Newbies, Part II

Yesterday we began to look at an email conversation I had recently with Jasia from The Creative Gene about genetic genealogy.

Jasia began by asking whether she should test both her and her mother’s mtDNA (I advised her no, because they would be the same sequence), and then we talked about testing her father’s mtDNA. Since her father could not be tested directly, Jasia wondered if her brother could provide a sample of her father’s mtDNA. I explained that although her brother could provide a sample of her father’s Y-DNA, she would have to find other sources for her father’s mtDNA, including her father’s sisters or brothers, or the children of her father’s sisters. She responded:

“Fortunately, my dad came from a large family including 6 sisters 4 of which had children. So I have cousins a plenty and can probably find one of them to help me out with a little saliva ;-)

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Genetic Genealogy Advice for Newbies, Part I

This week I had a terrific email conversation with Jasia from The Creative Gene about genetic genealogy.She left a comment on a recent post, Discovering My Maternal Roots, which asked:

“I’m a complete neophyte about DNA for genealogy. I’m wondering if there is any reason to test myself, and my mother. Since the mtDNA seems to trace the maternal line… is it enough to test just one of us or is there something to be learned by testing both of us?”

This is a great question, one that many people who are new to genetic genealogy ask.Understanding how mtDNA and Y-DNA are inherited is one of the most challenging aspects of genetic genealogy.I always think of them as mirror images; if you chart your family tree, the Y-DNA travels down the far left line (from your father’s father’s fathers’ father…) while the mtDNA follows the far right line (from your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother…).Here is my response to her comment:

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From the NYT: DNA Tests Offer Immigrants Hope or Despair

dna2.JPGAlthough the article in today’s New York Times – “DNA Tests Offer Immigrants Hope or Despair” by Rachel L. Swarns – uses traditional paternity or maternity tests and not genetic genealogy tests, the emotional results of the tested can often be the same. What if DNA proves that your father isn’t your biological father? What happens when there is uncontestable proof that there was an NPE (non-paternal event) in your great-grandfather’s ancestry?

According to the article, federal officials in the Immigration Department are using “genetic testing to verify the biological bonds between new citizens and the overseas relatives they hope to bring here, particularly those from war-torn or developing countries where identity documents can be scarce or doctored.”

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23andMe Revisited

logobig.pngI get visitors from search engines nearly everyday looking for information about the startup business 23andMe. I’ve briefly mentioned 23andMe before, but I thought I’d see how much information I could gather doing a brief online search.

The website describes the venture:

“23andMe is an early stage startup developing tools and producing content to help people make sense of their genetic information. Our goal is to take advantage of new genotyping technologies and help consumers explore their genetics, informed by cutting edge science.

“Combining computer science, biology and informatics, we are at the cutting edge of a new era of genetics. Genome deciphering technologies have reached affordable levels, allowing consumer access. This information has the potential to empower both individuals and society in a way that will deliver tremendous value. For the individual, such information will provide personal insight into ancestry, genealogy and health. For society, the collection of genotypic and phenotypic information on a large scale will provide scientists with novel avenues for research.

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Recent Genetic Genealogy News

Here are some recent news articles that mention the use of genetics in traditional genealogy:

  1. Internet databases, DNA testing make genealogy an easy pursuit – but only for some – An Associated Press story about the use of DNA testing for people researching genealogy in countries (such as Asia, Africa, etc…) with few online databases.
  2. Genes in fashion – The anthropology department of the California State University has tested the DNA of hundreds of students to create an exhibit called “Immigrants All! Our Migration Tales and Genetic Trails” in the department’s museum.
  3. To Whom Else Does Your DNA Belong? – A response to reporter Amy Harmon’s recent story in the New York Times.Although I don’t agree with the strict opposition voiced in this student article, the title is very similar to the title I chose for my own response.
  4. McCoy tempers in famed feud may have genetic cause – Many of the McCoy’s, one of America’s most famous feuding families, have a genetically inherited disease caused Von Hippel-Landau which cause tumors of the adrenal gland.This can lead to high blood pressure and hot tempers.It turns out that geneticists have been studying and publishing about the family for over 30 years and have traced the disease through at least 4 generations.
  5. Rogue-gene discovery could end family’s tragedy – Another story about using genetics and genealogy to trace the distribution of a devastating mutant gene through a family.This gene, which triggers stomach cancer, has ravaged at least 5 generations of a family in New Zealand.

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“Do It Yourself Genetic Research” at the Learn.Genetics Website

r1_c2.jpgI recently profiled the website DnaTube which hosts videos and animations that explain various facets of genetics and DNA.Another source of valuable information is the Learn.Genetics website hosted by the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah.

According to the website:

“The Genetic Science Learning Center is an outreach education program located in the midst of bioscience research at the University of Utah. Our mission is to help people understand how genetics affects their lives and society.Our educational resources provide accurate and unbiased information about topics in genetics and bioscience. Designed for non-research audiences, our materials are interactive and jargon-free, target multiple learning styles, and often convey concepts through visual elements.

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Who Owns Your DNA?

An article in today’s New York Times, “Stalking Strangers’ DNA to Fill in the Family Tree” by Amy Harmon, looks at the extremes that some genetic genealogists have gone to to ‘obtain’ DNA from other people for analysis. The genetic genealogists in the article have stalked potential relatives and one keeps a DNA kit in his fridge awaiting his uncooperative father’s demise.

I recently asked my father’s first cousin to take a DNA test since he possessed the only surviving mtDNA from my great-grandmother, and orphan. The two lines had connected in 30 or 40 years, but once I made contact he was very interested in taking the test. The results provided the only clues I have regarding my great-grandmother’s ancestry. If that source had been unwilling to participate, I own some letters that my great-grandmother had written and I could have analyzed the DNA from the envelopes. I do understand the desire to analyze someone else’s DNA, but stalking people and waiting for them to die seems a bit extreme.

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